Monday, August 19, 2013

Eid'l Fitr Festival 2013: understanding Filipino Muslim cultural heritage

Another version of this blog appeared as Eidl Fitr Festival 2013, reaching out for peace and unity in the 16-22 August 2013 issue of the FilAm Star, a weekly at the Bay Area in California.

Former Senator Santanina T. Rasul danced on stage with the festival staff and the cultural performers after the closing program.  Ms. Amina Rasul-Bernardo expressed her thanks to all who made the festival successful in projecting the rich Filipino Muslim cultural heritage.
On Sunday afternoon (11 August), I sat beside former Senator Santanina Tillah Rasul while waiting for the closing ceremonies of the 3-day Eid'l Fitr Festival at the Atrium, The Block of SM City North EDSA in Quezon City.

This gave me reason to pause from reading the Manila Bulletin whose headline that day was Mindanao clash rages, 5 Moro insurgents slain in military offensive. There had already been nine bombings in nine Mindanao towns, and the Philippine military has yet to identify suspects.   

It’s the Eid, a festive occasion marking the end of the month-long fasting period of Ramadhan, and I found it inappropriate to talks about the violence in Mindanao with Ms. Rasul.  

I  had gone through the exhibit booths earlier, and I was particularly interested in the Sama ethnic group, which is not familiar to me.  Thus, my first question to Ms. Rasul: if the Sama and Samal groups are different.  She said they're the same, adding that they're one of the thirteen ethnic groups there in Mindanao, five being represented in the ongoing festival: the Maguindanao, Maranao, Tausug, Sama and Yakan. 

The Samas rendering kulintang music and the finger dance in their distinctive traditional manner.

We talked about the Badjaos who have informally settled around Manila, and the women with babies or children in tow roaming the streets to beg.  When she was in the Senate, she said, she met all the Badjaos in Manila and arranged for them to go back to Sulu. She suspects that there may be a syndicate that brings them back here because travel is expensive.  The next time she asked for a meeting, they ignored her call.

Ms. Rasul is a Tausug and I told her that my roommate in my sophomore year at the University of the Philippines was a Tausug. That's when I began to know more about Muslim Filipinos esp. with regard to their religious practices (we had periods of respectful silence in our room when he said his prayers). The last time I saw him, he was already a lawyer, married to a Christian.

I wanted to ask her about the Sultanate of Sulu, and if they and the Royal Houses of Lanao and the Maguindanao Sultanate have genealogical connections, but she had already began writing her message for the closing program.  I would have told her about my blog on Sultan Jamalul Alam who was a no-show in his photo session with French scientists Joseph Montano and  Paul Rey on 25 December 1879.  His royal portrait was shot the next day though, and it's been used in book covers and articles on Muslim Filipinos. The sultan signed the lease of Borneo to Overbeck &Dent in 1878.

I could have also told her about the scare Moro boats created among the people living along the coast of Zambales in the 1800s.  Accounts at the National Archives tell of petitions of the Alcaldia of the province to the superior government to convert Capones Island as a fortress with a flotilla of boats to go after Moro intruders. Manila never approved. 

Modern and traditional fashion.  The modern is represented by the wedding gown by Pitoy Moreno (leftmost) and the terno by Patis Tesoro (rightmost).   Princess Rosalind Bahjin Sawadjaan stands beside a modern version of her Tausug dress.  The young Maranao lass wears her dress in the traditional manner.

 The observance of Eid'l Fitr is recent history.  This year’s festival was the eleventh since 2002 when Republic Act 9177 was passed.  The law made this first day of Shawwal, the tenth month of the Islamic calendar, a national holiday.  It's a lunar feast, the date of which is determined by the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) “in accordance with the Islamic calendar or the lunar calendar, or upon Islamic astronomical calculations, whichever is possible or convenient.” 

“It is during Ramadan and the festivities at the end of the fast,” NCMF Secretary Mehol K. Sadain reflected, “that the Philippines, a predominantly Catholic country, becomes aware of the religious and ethnic diversity existing in our society.  The Philippines celebrates the Eid ul-Fitr as a distinctly Islamic religious event, and even proclaims it as a national holiday.”   

Ms. Rasul enjoined her Muslim brethren “to open our hearts and share with our countrymen the richness and diversity of the Muslim culture, traditions, faith and hospitality” as they celebrate the Eid.  She hoped to “promote a better appreciation of our country’s divergent ethnicities and foster mutual understanding between and among all Filipinos” through the festival.  She chairs the Magbassa Kita Foundation, Inc., which organized the festival in collaboration with the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF), Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy (PCID), and the Department of Tourism, among others. 

To DOT Sec Ramon R Jimenez, Jr., “the Eid’l Fitr celebration provides opportunities to showcase the best of Muslim culture and traditions” and that “the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement, a milestone achievement forged under the Aquino administration, is one among many reasons why this year’s celebration is more meaningful.”

Kulintangan rhythms from dance troupe musicians and the UP Tugma (lower panel) dominated during the festival.  The PUP Banda Kawayan rendered popular folk tunes from bamboo instruments like the angklung (top right).

This was my first time to witness the Eid festival.  It was truly an enriching experience, learning about the richness of Filipino Muslim ethnicities through the trade fair of Mindanao food, textile, and other native products, video presentations, the booths of the ethnic groups, and performances by various cultural groups. The exhibits also included couture from Pitoy Moreno and Patis Tesoro using fabrics woven in the Muslim south, and art works including pieces from National Artist Abdulmari Imao.These were all aimed at “promoting peace and unity through a better understanding of Filipino Muslim cultural heritage.”  

Muslim students enrolled in masteral programs at the University of the Philippines showed through dance the different ways of wearing the malong

The musical staple during the festival was the kulintangan rhythm provided by accompanists of the various dance troupes that performed folk dances from Muslim Mindanao, the UP Tugma Kulintang Group, and by Prof. Edru Abraham and his Kontra Gapi..  During the first day opening program, the UP Concert Chorus sang a repertoire of folk songs from southern Philippines during the opening program.  In counterpoint to gongs and kulintangs, the PUP Banda Kawayan played Filipino folk tunes from percussion and wind instruments fashioned from bamboo tubes. 

Costumes and dances from Muslim Philippines.

Audiences had a feast of Himig at Galaw (Music and Dance) ng Mindanao, from the Karyala Cultural Dance troupe, AlunAlun Dance Circle, FEU Dance Company and PUP Maharlika Dance Artists, who interpreted folk dances from the south.

Traditonal manners of dancing were shown by two Sama women and the association of Muslim graduate students at the University of the Philippines.  

Through dance, the Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group display the different colorful designs of fabric woven in Muslim Mindanao.

The Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group showed off the Habi at Hiyas ng mga Dayang-Dayang at Bai featuring formal and traditional attires, and provided the choreographic background in the presentation of representatives of the Sultanates of Sulu and Maguindanao and the Royal Houses of Lanao.   

Models and couturiers featured in the culminating fashion show.

The highlight of the closing ceremonies was a fashion show featuring the creations of Cora Manimbo, Len Cabili and Amir Sali, with the special participation of the Ramos Obusan Folkloric Group and the Professional Models Association of the Philippines.

Ms. Amina Rasul-Bernardo, President, Philippine Center for Islam Democracy and Managing Trustee, Magbassa Kita Foundation, Inc., summed up the three-day event with these invocations in her closing remarks: tradition and inspiration (modern fashion using traditional fabrics), tourism not terrorism (your Muslim brethren are peace loving), and “Muslims are full of fun, too.”

In the Eidl Fitr festival, there was no BIFF, MILF, MNLF, or other political groups.  There were only Muslim brothers and sisters reaching out for peace and unity like their other fellow Filipinos.

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